Rapid Prototyping

We haven’t said much here in a while but with Foundry 2011 drawing to a close I feel that there should be an update about what we’ve been up to over the past 2 weeks. First though, tomorrow we’re have a launch/farewell event/presentation discussing all things webby, thingy, smelly and Foundry and you are invited to come along! We will be showcasing the culmination of our 3 months with Mint Digital (but don’t want to give it all away just yet!).

For more information on the event, and to sign up, visit here: http://foundry2011.eventbrite.com/

Anyway, to fill in the chronological blanks, following on from Steve Jobs memorials and cardboard models we stepped into the digital and began 3D modelling prototypes. Using Google Sketchup, Ben and I knocked together a fair few digital model variations inspired by the forms and functions we had been playing with using card, glue and tape. After a bit of exploration, each of us had designed models which were aesthetically similar, however had different means of construction and interaction. We got both of these models manufactured at 2 different places using 2 different methods of 3D Rapid Prototyping. This gave us an initial run of 4 prototype models, 2 were produced using Laser Sintering while the other two consisted of a plaster/glue mixture. It quickly transpired that, though quite a bit cheaper, the plaster style models had a terrible finish, were incredibly brittle and justified the slightly more expensive (and more detailed) SLS method.

With the manufacture method chosen the four of us discussed things the two different designs so that Ben and I were able to go back to the modelling screens and produce a product that combined the best of both designs. There was still a bit of testing to go through, we wanted to try a friction locking, “lego block” approach however the output model showed us that the tolerances were tricky to get right and the material wore down  easily under friction meaning that the model quickly became loose.

So our final model uses a slide locking mechanism with very tight tolerances which works very effectively. It really highlights the perfectionism that goes into the most underrated interactions we have with objects We could easily spend another month working on the locking mechanism alone but we just don’t have the time (and it starts to get pricey with all these 3D printed models!)

Along with the construction method, the models helped us to define how the user interacted with smell input (which became a drawer) and the what the most effective logo is (which went though a few iterations to discover something that printed onto the model with a high resolution).

So as I write this, our models have been refined, then refined again and are at the 3D printers getting rapidly produced in time for tomorrow. On top of this, Chris and Genis have been busy working on a website detailing all you need to know about the project. This has highlighted the interesting challenge of, how do you visually sell an aesthetically subdued object that has a primary function of outputting invisible scents. Seems a bit counter intuitive but the guys are doing a great job and if all goes well the site will be launched tomorrow - keep an eye out for that!

So it’s been awfully busy and despite the inevitable last minuiteness of things, all is looking to be grand tomorrow for our launch. Come along and say hi, it’s nicer to meet in the physical than the digital!

-Tim


Oct 26
6:21 pm
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The Quest to Make the Perfect Smells

Prototypes

Over the last month or so, we have been doing lots of experiments to work out exactly what the best medium is for dispersing smells on demand. At long last, it feels like we are very close to working it out, and have a working system that lets out smells whenever the internet tells it to. I thought it might be interesting to just outline and reflect on the strangely cyclical process we have gone through to get to where we are now.

Pringles Fan

Our first smelly prototype was the Pringles tube with a fan in the top and air freshener in the bottom. It definitely worked to an extent, and the fan did distribute the smell - the main problem being that it smelt quite strongly whether it was switched on or not. And its hard to smell the internet when everything else smells too.

Pre-Hack

The next one was the hacked Glade air freshener we called the “Smell of Success”. This used the same aerosol canister as a normal Glade freshener would use, and consequently had the same problems - although it could produce a strong smell with very little liquid, it smelt absolutely awful and was very expensive to replace when it ran out. Furthermore, there is very little possibility, with aerosols, for people to make their own scents and customize their device’s output.

Fogger

The next would-be smell-maker was the ultrasonic vaporiser/fogger, some experiments with which can be found here. This worked by vibrating water at such a frequency that it turned into mist. If you put essential oils in said water, the air would very quickly fill with their scent. Despite producing a very visually stunning effect, the downside of the thick fog was that it began to soak everything around it in smelly water. Which isn’t ideal. Particularly around computers and stuff.

#1

We needed to find a way of spreading the more natural, pleasant smells of essential oils without coating everything nearby in the aforementioned puddles of stench. And to do this, we have somewhat returned to where we started. By creating a closed system between an essential oil container and a directional fan, we make it possible to distribute the oils’ smell on demand, without it leaking out all of the time. It works!

Sometimes a very simple solution like this goes through a very complicated process to eventually arrive at it. With the components and system now more or less in place, work continues on how we refine the visual form of the object into something that works, but also that gives the smell dispenser a unique and desirable identity.

I assure you, you’re going to want one.

- Chris


Oct 13
10:25 am
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Prototypes

If you’ve been following our flicker feed you’ll have noticed that over the last few days, we’ve been knocking together quite a plethora of prototypes. Its been fun! It’s allowed us to develop (and generally just play around with) the look, feel, interaction and of our smelly device as well as explore what it could be made from and how it could be made. Anyway here’s some snaps of our ‘finished’ models with a bit of a description about the intention of each iteration. Enjoy.

So following on from the cups-and-vaporisers approach, we went out and bought a few computer fans. Our visit to ScentAir identified that fans and scent cartridges was the most common method they used within their electric automatic model (albeit not with computer fans but a similar effect). Plus we had been faffing around with the vaporiser for too long. The above image was the first working model off the back of this - pringles tub with a few drops of essence inside with a fan taped to the top. Plugging into the computer via USB, the fan activated and released the smell within and contained it nicely while it was off, perfect, but not all that pretty!

Meanwhile, Ben was playing around with a different fan and constructed this helix approach to pump the air out as efficiently as possible (below).

#8

Chris, using yet other fan, began playing around with a more towered approach. This development helped to look into how we can start layering the different aspect of the design - the electronics, the scent oil and the fan.

#3

#12

Getting an understanding what goes where was helpful in highlighting some design routes. The geometric restrictions of what we were using helped to open up some avenues that were not expected, like Tim’s design below where the device has a hinge for it to open and close allowing the user to change/replace the ‘smell cartridge’. The image below it is a further development which also incorporates housing and working connection for the arduino.

#1

We began to see a problem emerging with our model thus far which was that none of them were really oriented towards your nose - kind of important to experiment with if you what immediate, alerting smells! This one from Genis leans back, at such an angle that it fires smells directly from your desk to where you are sitting. Below that is one from Tim which rotates to allow the user to specify where it is pointing.

#4

#10

That’s not to say it was all fans and function, Ben made this bellow style approach which was certainly the most effective smell puffer but we struggled to work out how it could operate electronically whilst also being silent

#11

Where are we not then? We’ll there’s a few more prototype photos on the flicker page with some more weird, wonderful and primarily cardboard models for you to check out. On top of that we have been discussing some development ideas for what the smell cartridge actually is and what the most effective way it could plug into the device is and there are undoubtedly a few more card models to follow. Plus there a whole web connection to sort out… The cogs are still turning within the the Foundry!


Oct 6
12:32 pm
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This Smellslike That

Lid

As the development of our internet-of-smells device gathers pace, I thought it might be a good time to explain where we are currently are with everything.

The Smell of Success prototype was a one function device - it connected to your computer via USB and sprayed out a smell every time one of your tweets was re-tweeted. More than anything, it was the software that was determining this function, not the hardware. And software can be changed much more easily than hardware. What we had built, essentially, was an internet connected smell device, which, depending on the coding, could produce smells in reaction to all manner of web interactions.

We started to think of how we could use a more developed version of the device as a platform for others to experiment with their own personal uses for smelling the internet. Using an interaction similar to that employed by the brilliant ifttt.com, we can employ a simple cause and effect approach to choosing what it does - for example, if I get a retweet on twitter, then my device will produce the smell of lemon.

SmellsLike

From this came the name “smellslike”, which poses the device as a mediator between internet interactions and smells in the real world. A retweet smellslike lemon. An e-mail smellslike chocolate. Whatever you like. And, we hope, as people play with this more and more, some really interesting interpretations will start to emerge.

- Chris


Sep 26
10:01 am
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Novelty Spimes

Bobs

As the smell of success wafts fragrantly through the Mint offices, we have been discussing the pros and cons of the novelty gadget - small, cheap products that usually have one or two humorous functions to keep you amused for hours.

Novelty products appeal because they’re fun - they have a simple, accessible interaction that instantly captures your imagination or makes you laugh. Of course, the flip side of this is that they can get old quickly - there’s only so many times you can use that whoopee cushion in the office before you A) tire of it or B) get the sack. And products that follow this super-fast pattern of consumption are wasteful - of materials, time, and money.

However, I don’t see them disappearing any time soon, and their capacity to make people smile and play around should not be sniffed at. In fact, at the moment, small cheap gadgets are providing wonderful starting points for people to experiment with electronics and digital interactions. Just a quick browse through object-hacking sites like Instructables will confirm this. A major consideration of ours recently has been how we can make these novelty gadgets less wasteful and more productive, and more in line with the experimental spirit that they can inspire in people.

The “novelty spime” is emerging as an intriguing way of doing it. I won’t go too much here on what a spime is here, for lack of space (try Bruce Sterling’s “Shaping Things" or, more immediately, the wikipedia page). The most memorable quote regarding spimes, for me, is this - that they are "material instantiations of an immaterial system." Spimes exist in the real world only when they need to, and once the novelty of existence wears off, they can just as easily be taken apart and returned to a more immaterial state. 

Map

The possibility of building an object-platform that allows people to build the thing themselves, modify it, and use it in as many ways as their imagination allows, is a really exciting one. When the novelty does wear off, its just as easy to break it down to its constituent parts and either redistribute it or make something else. It gives space for play and experimentation, but also imagines a multitude of long-term future use scenarios - crucially, few of which are wasteful.

Designing the novelty spime is mostly new territory for us, and brings with it an abundance of new considerations - how you design something to be downloadable from the internet, taken apart, re-coded, re-used and re-distributed takes in a lot of unique and complex interactions. But I, for one, am very excited about going through the process of working it all out. Watch this space!

- Chris


Sep 15
2:20 pm
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4 Guys, 3 Smelly Cups

Last week I was mostly in Denmark exhibiting at a new technology event called NEXT. This was for my personal work so I was a little out of the loop with The Smell of Success progress but it was great to get back on Friday and see what the other guys had been up to in my absence. There had been a lot of talk of pushing what Smell of Success could be - exploring how the inclusion of odours can enrich interactive systems and what specific effects they can have on us. This was all sounding pretty exciting so I wanted to get involved with some further idea development.

Previously, we’ve been playing around with a few different techniques for idea generation surrounding the basis of having a starting point on a sheet of paper - either a concept, insight or question - and then passing this around between the four of us to each further develop, refine or expand upon the starting point. This has had mixed success but I thought I would try out a new idea generation technique I had picked up from a workshop I attended in Denmark where I was in a group alongside Ted Howes - Former Global Lead on Sustainability at IDEO - the kind of person you want to pinch idea generation techniques from! There where a few formal rules to the process but I forgot to note them down so in summary it was, get some post-its, start churning out ideas, be quantitative, share your ideas and insights (but do this quickly) and then collate the ideas into coherent groups. This seemed to work really well as it allowed us to collectively work on various tangents of which one in particular started to sound really interesting, that of synaesthesia. We started asking questions like, can you smell colours, what do smells sound like, are bad smells heavier than pleasant ones.

I thought it would be fun to do an experiment surrounding this so I put together three mystery smells made from stuff in the Mint Digital kitchen. Starting with 3 cups each containing rooibos tea, a smell which I figured would not be too familiar, I then added to one cup a spoonful of strawberry jam; the next cup, a dollop of HP sauce; and the final cup, a mix of orange juice and washing up liquid (warning was provided that they should be smelt and not tasted). The guys where unaware what was in each cup so I asked them to consider the mysterious, and unique smell through a series of questions:

  • what is the colour of the smell?

  • what is the shape of the smell?

  • what kind of personality does the smell evoke?

  • what memory does this conjure up?

  • what are the ingredients of the smell?

Strawberry Jam and Rooibos Tea

Though not a wholly indistinguishable smell, the spice of the rooibos effectively disguised the fruity, sweet, identifiable strawberry. Ben and Genis both related to it a reddish colour, explaining assumptions that there was berryish smell to it. Chris however chose a light green as, for him, the smell recalled notions of summer time, flowers and iced lollies. This was an early insight into how smells are easily interpreted in different ways, perhaps even more so when the smell is unfamiliar.

The shape Ben chose was numerous circles grouped together which was really interesting as he assumed that there was some raspberry ingredient in the mix however did not consciously make the connection between the shape he created in his minds eye and the fact this shape very closely resembled a raspberry. This may help to explain how easy it is for a smell to trigger a memory or thought – perhaps faster than you can consciously comprehend. This notion of memory triggering was furthered by Genis who explained that the smell reminded him of a sweet from his childhood, memories of primary school and a particular person, a bit of a bully, who he had not seen for 15 years. An interestingly specific memory - Genis went onto explain that though he did not recognise the exact smell of strawberry, they were something he ate a lot of when he was young so that may be why his memory harked back to Primary School.

HP Sauce and Rooibos Tea

Imagining that this is not to most pleasant of flavours (did not try it) the smell of this had a real spice to it through combining both the musky spice of the rooibos with the fruity spice of HP sauce. The colours chosen for this smell were auburn, burgundy and maroon. It’s interesting that these colours are all very deep, rich colours, not dissimilar to the dark brown of HP sauce. Not sure what the conclusion is from this but either HP sauce uses colouring because we commonly relate the smell/taste to a particular shade of brown or perhaps it’s vice versa, our notions of the colour are derived from previous experiences of the smell/taste – that is what brown sauce should smell like.

The sauce highlighted a cultural divide in our group too. Genis was completely unfamiliar to the smell, it was not part of his Catalonian background and therefore quite literally foreign to him. He said that the smell had an ugly personality. Ben almost guessed the ingredient right as he said it reminded him of a friends father who used to smother everything he ate in HP sauce though Chris had no idea what the ingredients were and claimed it reminded him of Christmas time and wintery spices. Perhaps this could be a festive rebrand route for the sauce… In contrast to Genis though, Chris said the smell also had a spicy and masculine personality and possibly also wore a smoky jacket – very sophisticated! Interesting how different backgrounds can affect interpretations of smells though, can you create a completely unique smell that can be universally recognised? We got talking about how coca-cola is such a massive global brand but could people distinguish the smell without the logo?

Fresh Orange Juice, Washing Up Liquid and Rooibos Tea

A surprisingly not-disgusting smell (though one which was again not tasted) this had zesty notes which complimented the rooibos spice and the fresh (apple?) odour of the washing up liquid. It was also slightly bubbly when stirred and had a bit of a horrible murky brown colour. Chris said the the smell had a bit of a “fake natural” personality which perhaps was due to the real smell of orange mixed with the artificial smell of the washing up liquid. Both he and Ben related the smell to hygiene, cleanliness and medication however, conversely, it reminded Genis of adventure and going trekking with the shape being that of a kind of palm tree.

I think this smell threw the guys off a bit as it was pretty weird but again, the diverse responses were interesting. We discussed if interpretations of smells could be used more widely as personal identification – such as a password reminder being a specific smell which only you would understand based on how you respond to it.

Conclusion

I am not too certain what to make of this experiment. The concept was devised in about 20 seconds, lasted around 20 mins and has taken far longer to write up so perhaps a bit of pre-consideration of the outcome would have helped but here is what I think we have gained a better understanding of:

  • Your sense of smell of a very unique quality and open to very specific interpretation for each particular person. Perhaps it is that odour information has not gone through the same semantic enlightenment as visual information (whereby a smell could be designed in a specific way to trigger universal interpretation). If it is relevant I would like to call this research scentmantics because I love bad wordplay.

  • Our diverse interpretations of smell should also be something to embrace. Smells, unlike much other sensory stimuli will often trigger a memory of how you know the smell before you interpret what the smell actually is. This link between smell and memory is really cool territory however will require some hefty reading to make proper sense of beyond pseudo science speculation.

  • Quick and impulsive ideas are great and can lead you down unexpectedly intriguing paths so embrace them and go with the flow!

And that’s me done now! This was an unexpectedly long post so well done for making it this far, go have a cup of tea but give it a sniff before you drink it.

-Tim


Sep 6
11:03 am
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The Smell of Success

Box + Twitter = Smell

As you may have read last week, recently we have been considering the possibilities of connecting smell to the internet. Alongside conceptual exploration of the potential of smell, how it affects us, and how we can use it online, we have been building a simple prototype that will emit a scent in response to an online activity.

Titled ‘The Smell of Success’, the prototype is a hacked Glade air freshener that sprays out its “vanillaroma” whenever one of your tweets is re-tweeted. It came from us playing around with the idea of rewarding digital success with physical rewards - giving you a little pat on the back or treat whenever someone responds favourably to something you do on the web.

So it works like this. The Glade is hooked up (via arduino and processing) to our Twitter account. We put out a tweet of some sort. The device can then recognise whenever someone re-tweets it, and every time that happens, it will let out a little puff of scented air. So you should most certainly re-tweet @mintfoundry whenever you can, and stink out the Mint Digital offices for us.

Hooked up to the Internets

As Ben pointed out in his wonderful “Digital Snurdling" post, the ephemeral nature of a passing smell has great similarity with the way a tweet works - it exists momentarily before wafting away and being forgotten. Of course, those who have enough Twitter clout to be re-tweeted all the time would have their little machine constantly pumping out the smell of success (which, admittedly, probably isnt vanillaroma).

This coming week, we will be working towards how we can make this prototype something more developed - exploring the possibilities of connecting it to different people and networks, and also working on its physical and aesthetic properties. In its current guise, it does of course have the potential to seem gimmicky; its our aim to resolve this and make use of the capacity of smell to genuinely enrich digital experiences.

Stay tuned and keep up the re-tweeting. Smell you later.

- Chris 


Aug 30
12:52 pm
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Smelling the Internet

Smell of Success

The way we currently experience the Internet is primarily concerned with the visual, and, to a lesser extent, the auditory. The Internet is something “somewhere else”, a separate world that we gain access to through the combination of screen, mouse and keyboard that you probably have sat before you now. 

So you can see and hear all that stuff in the Internet, but not much else. Last week, we were talking about ways of widening and diversifying this interaction - how can touch, smell, balance, taste etc. be just as important a part of the way we experience the web?

Smell is an area that has been explored in design and architecture to an extent, but usually only in relation to marketing - think of shops like Subway or Lush, whose distinctive (some would say invasive) odours are as much a part of their brand identity as their products and imagery. In fact, I find you often smell these places before you see them, and, crucially, instantly know exactly what that particular smell means.

Smells can affect us in ways that we are not always particularly aware of, which is not surprising given the very visual culture that we have all grown up in. On a subconscious level however, smell has very strong links to comfort, memory and experience - it can open up pathways in your brain to different moods and sensations that hit you very suddenly and profoundly.

Over the next week or so we’re going to be working out what the “Internet of Smells” might be. How it connects to the internet, how regularly we should catch a whiff of it, and why and in what situations it could be genuinely useful. Its about enriching and broadening our interaction with the web - and considering an internet culture that engages more than just a couple of our senses (hopefully without making another iSmell).

What do you think the Internet smells like?

- Chris

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Aug 22
5:36 pm
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Shopping for Clothes (and Building Bears)

IMG_0588

The trend of retail spaces, particularly in East London, having a contrived worn and old-fashioned look is a curious one. Rough wooden surfaces, condensed typography, steel girders, exposed brickwork… As we started to research clothing stores this week, it seemed to be everywhere. It’s an aesthetic that is certainly very attractive - it suggests an older, more wholesome age from the past (though one that possibly never existed).

This aesthetic was also evident in the coffee shops we were looking at last week. We noticed an interesting difference between the clothes stores and the coffee sellers though, and this was the role of the staff in shaping your experience. If you approached someone working at Prufrock or Caravan and asked them about their coffee, they would have a lot to say about where its sourced, how its made, what it tastes like - and would be more than happy to tell you about it.

With clothing, there is just as much (if not more) to discuss about the process of making. Materials, sizing, stitching, cut and fit - every stage of making a quality garment is a careful, deliberate and engrossing process. But I found that if you asked staff about their products in a clothing store, their knowledge of these things tended to be far more limited.

The reason for this, I think, is because there is too much of a divide between how & where clothes are made, and the places they are sold. It allows some manufacturers to get away with making really cheap clothes in exploitative conditions, and it allows others to put extortionate price tags on clothes that are actually of poor quality. If more could be done to bridge this gap, I think it might help people to value clothes in a different way - based on how well-made and long-lasting they are, rather than price or image.

Retail experiences where customers are physically involved in the making of what they buy do exist, but in other spheres. Build-a-Bear is a chain store of teddy making factories, jazzed-up as retail outlets, rather than hidden tools of production. Customers choose the ‘skin’ of the bear, how much stuffing goes into it, what clothes it wears, and can even record their own sound for the speaker that goes inside of it. However, I would say the most intriguing part of this process is the electronic beating heart that the user is asked to place inside the teddy whilst screaming “I LOVE MY BEAR” at the top of their voice. Its interesting because when the customer has a part in the process of making a product, they have a much stronger emotional investment in it.

IMG_0601

The last couple of days, we’ve been thinking about you might try to do that with clothing. There must be ways that technology and good design can help make this process of customisation accessible to more than just those who can afford a high-end tailor. Blank Label is a great little website where people can order custom shirts that they have designed themselves online - choosing the material, fit, buttons, pockets, to name just a few of the choices. It could be really interesting to take that sort of “make-your-own” interaction and start to put it into physical stores, involving and educating people in the way their clothes are put together as they shop.

- Chris (with a little help from Ben)


Aug 18
3:35 pm
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A Brush with the Riots

Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images 

This past week or so, it has been impossible to avoid the subject of the riots in London and across the country. Every media outlet has been saturated with a maelstrom of wildly varying opinion and critique, sometimes to the point where it became very difficult to make sense of what had actually happened.

A couple of days after the worst of the rioting had subsided, we were given the task of thinking about designing something that would relate to this recent event - perhaps something to help the people affected by it, or increase awareness of the potential root causes of the violence. Already by that point, a number of other campaigns and websites had started emerging.

Some of the most successful initiatives have been more focused on particular stories of individuals affected by the riot, creating small websites allowing visitors to donate money directly to them. These cases have usually been previously covered in the mainstream media: the 89 year-old barber whose shop was looted, the Malaysian student beaten and robbed in the middle of a riot, or the Hackney shopkeeper whose shop was ransacked too. These simple donation sites have raised huge amounts of money in just a few days, something that would have been almost impossible in London’s last heavy riots in the 1980s.

Social media have played an important role on both sides. On the one hand, Twitter and other social networks have been used to spread the word of destruction amongst looters, but they have also been used to great effect in clearing the mess and helping the victims of the violence. The most famous example is the simple use of a Twitter hashtag, #riotcleanup, which provided a platform for people to get in touch and get together to clear up the streets. The images of the Clapham clean up were an uplifting example of online activism turned to real world change.

Photograph: Twitter via @Lawcol888 

Less than a week after the rioting was in full flow, the operation of cleaning up London’s streets is more or less complete, which is a testament both to the action of local authorities and these networked, self-organised communities. What remains, however, is the task of helping those affected get their lives back on track, and the even greater task of trying to work out how to solve the deeper social and cultural problems that led to this sudden outpouring of violence.

We felt that by the end of last week, to an extent, we had missed the boat to do something small and specific. Sites like Keep Aaron Cutting worked so well because they could be built and implemented very quickly, and had a simple and achievable goal. The kind of problems that are now left to solve are far greater in scope and complexity - and require time to consider and reflect on what has happened. Its trying to find ways of turning events like the clean ups into more long-term social change. 

We haven’t worked out how to do it yet. But we’re thinking on it.

- Chris & Genis


Aug 15
10:38 am

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Foundry is a research team at Mint Digital.
Foundry is all about exploring physical objects which connect to the web though digital technology.

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The Smell of Success

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